Thursday, December 29, 2011

Fifteen Year Anniversary of the Guatemalan Peace Accords

Today marks the 15th anniversary of the peace accords that ended Guatemala's thirty-six year conflict. I'm going to be off for a few days, so take a look around the Guatemalans papers and let me know what you see.
Controversy 15 years after the accords
Where are the protagonists of peace? One is about to assume the highest office in the land.
Speaking of the general, he says that he is going to relaunch the substantive agreements from 1996. Here's an interview with Pablo Monsanto as well.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Charges against Mejia Dropped

From the AFP
Guatemala prosecutors have moved to drop genocide and war crimes charges against former dictator Oscar Mejia, who ruled from 1983-86, arguing that the 80-year-old is not fit to stand trial.
"Based on both forensic and psychiatric reports, and in accordance with applicable law, the criminal prosecution of Mr Mejia cannot continue, and so we have to suspend (it)," chief prosecutor Manuel Vasquez told reporters Tuesday.
In many ways, it's just a formality once Mejia was found unfit to stand trial. It's disappointing that, as of now, he won't stand trial. As I wrote last month, I was uncomfortable having eighty and ninety-year olds suffer their remaining years in prison,

However, at this point, I am more concerned that these men have their day in court. They should be tried for crimes related to their conduct during the war. Even if they never have to spend a day in prison, it will be something remarkable for a Guatemalan court to find them guilty of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
They could spend the rest of their lives under house arrest, but history will not absolve them.
Now it looks like Mejia won't even have his day in court.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Murders in El Salvador increase by over 10%?

On Monday, Salvadoran authorities released an update to the year's murder statistics.

El Salvador saw a post-civil war record number of murders in 2011, with at least 4,308 people killed in a crime epidemic in the country of 6.1 million, police said.
National police announced the figure late Monday, saying it topped the 2009 rate of 4,223 murders, making 2011 the deadliest year in recent memory for a small country still struggling to recover from a devastating civil war.
The latest number reflects a 9.3 percent increase in homicides from the previous year, according to national police director Carlos Ascencio.
We'll have to assume that the numbers reflect up to some date in December, but it's not clear in the article.

The increase in murders from 2010 to 2011 represents an increase of nearly 10%. They don't provide 2010's numbers. What they do provide are those for 2009 and when we compare 2011 to 2009, the increase is approximately 2% higher. Previously 2009 had been the most violent year on record.

However, once you take into consideration the population growth in El Salvador from 2009 to 2011, the murder rate will probably remain the same. (More people, more murders, rate per 100,000 remains the same).So you can look at it as things are getting worse or violence levels have returned to where they were two years ago.
Instituto de Medicina Legal Murder Figures for all but 2011
I don't have PNC murders over time. However, last year La Prensa Grafica provided murder statistics from the Instituto de Medicina Legal in El Salvador. As you can see, its numbers vary slightly from those reported by the PNC.

According to IML, 4,367 people were murdered in El Salvador in 2009. This number is 144 murders higher than that reported by the PNC. We'll have to wait to see whether the ILM also reports an increase in murders and, if so, by how much.

While the figure above does not take into consideration population differences, one can see similar upward trajectories in both El Salvador and Guatemala's total murders up to 2009. Both countries then made progress in reducing those numbers in 2010, but 2011 is a different story. Murders in Guatemala have continued to decrease while those in El Salvador look to surpass its 2009 highs.

How do I read these numbers? Guatemala has made significant progress in reducing the number of murders committed in both 2010 and 2011 (a largely unnoticed story). And in El Salvador, after experiencing some success in 2010, murders are back to where the Funes administration began, maybe even a little higher.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Coatepeque, Quetzaltenango

Under the headline Murders Continue (or Killings Continue) from Prensa Libre,

The number of violent deaths remains high in Coatepeque, Quetzaltenango, although it has fallen in relation to the cases registered last year. This remains one of the most violent in the department, just below the department capital.
According to statistics from the Public Ministry (MP), until just last week there had been 62 homicides in this municipality, and in 2010 reported 83.
You can just almost feel the jubilation that comes with a 25% drop in Coatepeque's murder rate! I'm sure things aren't all that great but when an article that speaks of a ~25% decline in the murder rate has a headline of Murders Continue, you just really have to wonder what would make them recognize a significant drop in the murder rate.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Murder Numbers in Guatemala

The 2011 figure includes actual murders up to Nov. and an estimate for Dec.
If you haven't read Nic Wertz's piece on Otto Perez Molina and the Guatemala Justice System, I would encourage you to do so. The justice system in Guatemala that has made progress in recent months is coming under attack from a variety of angles.

Anyway, we were going back and forth in the comments section and he said that Otto Perez had said during the campaign trail that Guatemala was suffering an average of approximately 25 murders a day. That would work out to be 9,125 murders per year, nearly 3,000 more than 2009 which is the worst year outside of the civil war.

Now, there seem to be a few explanations for the different between Perez's numbers and those of the PNC who have the country's murder totals approaching 5,600 for the year.

The PNC is wrong. They might be missing ten murders each day because they labelled them disappearances rather than murders. There might be mass graves like those found in Mexico in recent years. Either of those scenarios would explain the difference. I imagine that the PNC's numbers would then have been wrong each of the last few years which would effect total murders and rates, but probably not the overall trajectory of a decline in murders in 2010 and 2011. Unless it was just this year that they were off.

A second explanation is that the General is just playing loose with the numbers for political reasons. A former general who based his campaign on criticizing the outgoing administration for allowing the security situation to escalate out of control would not let facts stand in his way, would he?

He might have purposely cited the 25 figure to drum up fear among Guatemalans (as if they didn't have enough already). An accepted number of 25 murders per day and 9,000 or so a year would also make it much easier for him to attain his campaign promise of reducing the murder rate by 20%.

Now, if CICIG is using 17 murders each day that would correspond, roughly speaking, to the numbers form 2008. There were about 18 murders per day in 2009 and 16 in 2010. Now let's see what happens in December. If things stay the same this month as they have all year, Guatemala will check in with about 15.5 murders per month day. Not great, but getting better again.

Political and economic links from El Salvador

While CID-Gallup has President Mauricio Funes as the most popular president in Central America, Salvadorans polled by IUDOP don't entirely see it that way (See Tim). Forty-two percent say that he is doing a good job. 25% say neither good nor bad. 
While the FMLN leads voter preferences for the upcoming legislative and municipal elections according to IUDOP, local Salvadoran polls put out by the major means of communication have ARENA in the lead. 
Representatives from the Mesa Nacional frente la Mineria Metalica held a protest in front of the Canadian Embassy in San Salvador to commemorate the two-year anniversary of the deaths of two Cabans environmental activists.
Edgardo Ayala has a report from El Salvador on Women Demand to Be Included in Climate Solutions.
Some 100 rural women in El Salvador demanded that the government halt mining and hydroelectric projects that are harming their communities and establish specific programmes with a gender perspective for combating climate change. 
Mixed economic news out of El Salvador from FUNDE. The economy improved slightly during the first three months of 2011 at least compared to last year. However, they are predicting a slowdown in the fourth quarter and a not so rosy 2012.

Central American violence claims three more victims

In case you haven't heard, the Peace Corps is pulling its volunteers out of Honduras and freezing new volunteers to El Salvador and Guatemala. It's a sad day indeed.
Kristina Edmunson, a Peace Corps spokeswoman in Washington, said the moves stemmed from “comprehensive safety and security concerns” rather than any specific threat or incident. 
However, a Peace Corps volunteer in Honduras was recently shot in the leg during a botched bus assault. I also heard that several PCVs in Guatemala were robbed on a bus about two weeks ago. The violence does not appear to yet have targeted PCVs, but they continue to be caught up in the violence that affects the Salvadoran, Guatemalan, and Honduran people daily. 
I said on Twitter that they should send the volunteers to Nicaragua. I wasn't really joking. It's a beautiful country. The volunteers could learn a lot and the people of Nicaragua could use the help. It's still in Central America. And it's a lot safer. 
The other destination is Colombia where the Peace Corps reopened in 2010 after a twenty-nine year absence. There aren't that many PCVs serving in Colombia yet but the country should be able to handle more than the 20 or so that are currently placed.
I sincerely hope that the Peace Corps does not pull out of El Salvador and Guatemala as I fear a return to the region will be a long time in the making.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Confusing Crime Statistics from Siglo XXI

The last column includes November and December estimates.

Last time we looked, Siglo XXI threw on its front page odd murder statistics. This time, it takes on all forms of violence. According to Siglo XXI's reporting using PNC statistics, kidnappings (los secuestros), extortion (extorsiones) and the robbing of cell phones (robos de celulares) have increased over the last four years. 
There were 213 reported kidnappings in 2008 and 104 during the first ten months of 2011. So Guatemala should end up with about 120. That's a pretty big decrease and, from what I can read, should be celebrated rather than hyped as an increase. The final numbers should be below the 133 kidnappings reported in 2010.
They report 1,787 cases of extortion reported in 2008 and 3,345 during the first ten months of the year. If we estimate 334 in November and another 334 in December, Guatemala will end up with around 4,000 reported extortion attempts, an alarming increase over four years. Any good news? Well, if the year ends with 4,000 extortion cases, that is 200 less than last year. 
Okay, how about cell phones? 37,225 were reported stolen in 2008, 33,758 in 2009, and 31,479 in 2010. They don't give 2011 statistics, but from my limited math skills, I read these numbers indicating a downward trend as well.
No need to tackle homicides again, but here goes. If Guatemala finishes the year with ~5,600 homicides, it will be the lowest since 2005! 2009, 2008, and 2010 will remain the years with the greatest numbers of murders, but 2011 will continue what we all hope is a continued downward trend. 
Given that most media outlets seem to report that things were rosy before President Colom took office, I should just repeat that 5,885 were murdered in 2006 and 5,781 in 2007. So, again, murders will be down in Colom's last year compared to his first year as well as compared to the two year's prior to his taking office. 
You can read the rest of the table yourself, but you get the picture. Extortion, stolen cars, and reports of intra-family violence have worsened. Statistics on murders, kidnappings, and bus assaults have improved. Cell phone robberies were down in 2010 compared to 2008 (no 2011 estimates).
Unfortunately, they do not provide statistics from 2006 and 2007. That would give us a better idea as to what was going on during the two years prior to the Colom presidency. For example, Mario Polanco at GAM criticizes the administration because over 5,000 murders have occurred each year without reporting that there were also over 5,000 murders in 2005, 2006, and 2007. 
Or they let Mario Mérida, an "expert in security" say that there was an increase in crime during the first three years of Colom's term and some improvement during the first three-quarters of this year. That's better, but not entirely accurate. 2010 looks to have been a better year statistically than 2009. 
And none of this takes into consideration growth over the last four years. With more people, cars, and cell phones any decrease in the total numbers of murders, robberies, etc. looks even better in terms of the rate. From my reading of the situation, crime increased for much of the last decade and continued to worsen during the first two years of Colom's administration. However, murder, extortion, kidnapping, and bus assaults have shown improvement the last two years.

A forgotten invasion, a forgotten dictator

I have another piece at Al Jazeera. This time it is on the return of Manuel Noriega to Panama. I wrote it about ten days ago so it seems a bit outdated. However, yesterday was the anniversary of the start of the US invasion of Panama in 1989.

Here's the end of "A forgotten invasion, a forgotten dictator."

Guillermo Sanchez Borbon, co-author of a Noriega biography, said that, "We Panamanians are the kind of people to make a fuss for a couple of days and then move on." For the most part, Noriega no longer stirs up strong emotions among the people of Panama.
And what are we to do here in the US? Most students in my Latin American Politics course this semester were born after the invasion of Panama. Most admitted that this was the first time that they had ever heard of the invasion and Manuel Noriega. I would venture to guess that they are not alone. Few Americans know very much about our country's relationship with Noriega pre-invasion, the 1989 invasion itself, or his 20 years in a Miami prison.
After a flurry of news articles this week in the US, we are unlikely to hear anything else of the man and the country he once ruled until he passes from this earth. Like the people of Panama, the US can move on.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Central America Links

Here are some links from recent days that should be of interest.

Legal actions continue against retired Generals Héctor Mario López Fuentes and Oscar Humberto Mejía Víctores. You'll also find some information here on attacks against Paz y Paz attempts to hold the guerrillas responsible for some of the crimes they committed. 
Efrain Rios Montt goes on the offensive. 

President Colom apologized for the military's 1982 massacre at Dos Erres

Tim has information on Progressive tax reform in El Salvador

Voices from El Salvador has notes on Durban, El Salvador and Climate Change.

Inocente Montano, who is facing immigration charges in MA, was confused about the implications of pleading guilty to the charges. His hearing was rescheduled for next month. Montano is alleged to have participated in ordering the killing of six Jesuits in 1989.

After what must have been a heart-wrenching weekend, Lori Berenson arrived back in the United States yesterday.

I’ll try to be back with more later but I am trying to finish up some grading after spending yesterday at Freedom House in NYC. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Presidential Approval Ratings

CID-Gallup released approval ratings for the various Central American presidents last week. The surveys were carried out in October and November.
Given how disappointed many Salvadorans and Salvadoran watchers are with President Funes, it's interesting to see that the majority of the population still evaluate him so favorably. Fifty-seven percent say that he has done a good or very good job. The numbers are well below his highs, but pretty darn good particularly compared to his neighbors.

In Guatemala, Colom leaves office with terrible support, the lowest in the region at 17%. I tend to give Colom a little higher marks than those surveyed for a few reasons. Murders are down again this year and should be at their lowest level since 2005. Poverty has increased, but it's been a tough international economic environment and Guatemala has been struck by a number of natural disasters that have not helped.

Colom was politically destroyed by the Rosenberg murder/suicide through no fault of his own. Congress has been mostly useless. The media were never fond of Colom and have given him a harder time than previous presidents. I hope that this is a sign of independence and maturity on the part of the media that will continue into the next administration, but we will have to wait and see.

While the government isn't against using violence to evict campesinos and to support business interests, the Colom administration does not appear to have been operating death squads out of government ministries like previous ones have.

While the perceived level of corruption as measured by Transparency International increased in 2011, I think that a lot of the increase can be explained by the media's coverage of corruption cases and successful arrests (and subsequent acquittals) of high profile individuals. For now, I am not convinced that corruption is much higher than previous administrations. While the media makes it sound as it corruption in government offices didn't exist before Colom, there's a reasons that CICIG was brought to Guatemala.

Finally, Colom's administration has moved to arrest several high profile drug traffickers, former presidents, and human rights violators from the civil war years.

Now, Colom wasn't personally responsible for all that occurred during his term. But that doesn't matter. Guatemalans have spoken and it's not pretty. Colom has the lowest approval ratings of all the Central American presidents.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Berenson now barred from leaving Peru

The AP is now reporting that Lori Berenson has been denied permission from leaving Peru to spend the holidays in New York with her family. 

"They didn't let me leave and they're putting out this version that I arrived late," she said in a brief phone call with The Associated Press, referring to media reports citing unnamed airport officials.
Peru's anti-terrorism prosecutor, Julio Galindo, told the AP that on Friday he asked the court that approved Berenson's leave to nullify the decision because it violated a law prohibiting paroled prisoners to leave the country.
He said he did not know if the court had acted on his appeal.
Berenson, who was paroled last year after serving 15 years for aiding leftist rebels, was given permission to leave the country beginning Friday with the stipulation that she return by Jan. 11.
She had been denied such permission in October, but a three-judge appeals court on Wednesday overturned that lower court judge's ruling, said Guillermo Gonzalez, spokesman for Peru's judicial system.
On Friday, we learned that a Peruvian court had granted Berenson the opportunity to travel to NY between December 16th and January 11th. She would have the opportunity to spend Christmas and New Year's with friends and family as well as celebrate her dad's seventieth birthday. However, she would then have to return to Peru and finish her sentence that runs through 2015.

Perhaps now is a good time for President Humala to step in and say that we are done, that he doesn't want her treatment to become an embarrassment for the people of Peru. Acting in the holiday spirit, it's best the he commute her sentence and let her return to the US for good.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Berenson to travel to NY for the holidays

A Peruvian judge has given Lori Berenson permission to travel to New York for the holidays in order to spend Christmas with her family. Her father is correct in worrying that a negative public reaction from Peruvians to this development could still derail things. While other convicted terrorists can be forgiven, she cannot. Fortunately, while Berenson confirmed that she has permission to leave the country, said texted "I am not speaking to the press."

Funes before Funes

Salvadorenos en el Mundo

There was sad news out of El Salvador last week as Héctor Silva (1964-2011) passed away following a massive heart attack. Hector was a trained physician, had been involved in the creation of the Democratic Revolutionary Front (FDR), was elected to congress, was two-time mayor of San Salvador, and launched an unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 2004. 
Like President Mauricio Funes, Hector was sympathetic towards the FMLN but not an FMLN militant. He was elected mayor of San Salvador in 1997 on a ticket led by the FMLN just as Funes led a coalition ticket for the presidency in 2009. Both provided the FMLN with credibility beyond the organization's historic militants. Neither Silva nor Funes would have won without the FMLN just as the FMLN would not have won without them leading the ticket.
Hector's name was thrown around as a candidate for the 1999 presidential election. There were some who believed his popular stint as mayor of San Salvador would make him a strong candidate for the FMLN. As Voices from El Salvador wrote last week, he
oversaw the opening of the first landfill in Central America, decentralization of city services, and rehabilitation of the historic downtown area. He made civic participation a priority and enacted several relations that facilitated public input on how city funds were used.  He also made the municipal government more transparent and simplified the administrative process.
Instead, the FMLN selected a terrible candidate in Facundo Guardado. Silva, in all likelihood, would not have won the election anyway but I think that a strong candidacy would have put the FMLN in a better position heading into the 2004 election. On the other hand, five years was a long time for anything to happen and had the FMLN still nominated Schafik Handal in 2004, they probably would have lost again anyway.
I remember interviewing Hector in 2004 a few weeks after losing his presidential bid at the head of the United Center Democrats and Christian Democratic Party (CDU-PDC) coalition. He was pretty bitter towards the FMLN at the time. He spoke about how he had thought that people used the term communist simply to discredit Handal and the FMLN; that it wasn't really true. However, shortly after the 2004 election, he wasn’t so sure. He wouldn't go into detail about why, whether he meant organization's goals, the way it made decisions, or both. He left it at “they’re a bunch of communists.”
Silva was a fine man and those who had the privilege to meet him, even once, will dearly miss him. Above all, the Salvadoran people will.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Nomination of US Ambassador to El Salvador Derailed

On Monday, the Senate rejected President Barrack Obama's nominee for ambassador to El Salvador.  Mari Carmen Aponte’s nomination was derailed primarily by Senate Republicans. Aponte was a recess appointment last year and by most measures seems to have done a fine job representing the interests of the United States in El Salvador. However, there seem to be three main reasons why she failed to win the nomination this week. 
First, Senate Republicans were unhappy with her and the administration's failure to provide them with information about a romantic relationship that she had over a decade ago with a man tied to Cuban intelligence. Some senators wanted more information surrounding the allegations that Cuban intelligence even tried to recruit her. While the FBI twice cleared her of the allegations, that wasn't enough. 
Second, Aponte also published an op-ed in Salvadoran newspapers advocating for the "For the Elimination of Prejudices Wherever They Exist," specifically in regards to the country's gay and lesbian community. Her op-ed was consistent with U.S. foreign policy and with the responsibilities of the Salvadoran government under a variety of international treaties. However, that wasn't enough for Senate Republicans who claim that her statements were un-ambassadorial in a country with such a large Catholic population. 
Finally, and what I think is the strongest reason, her nomination was derailed because that is one of the few ways in which Republican members of Congress can show their disapproval of the president's policies towards Central and South America. Operation Fast and Furious, fraud in the Nicaraguan election, violence in the Northern Triangle and Mexico, Iran’s influence in Latin America, and the Castro brothers’ vitality all played a role in Aponte’s failed nomination.
Senator Rubio, for instance, claims that his vote against Aponte was not against her personally. He used his vote to express his repudiation of the president's policies towards Nicaragua and Cuba. Rubio even said that he was willing to support her nomination had he been convinced that the president was going to take a more supportive stance towards democracy in the region, particularly in Nicaragua and Cuba.
While I might disagree with the Senate on Aponte’s nomination and the administration’s approach to Latin America, they are fully within their rights to reject her nomination because that’s the way they can try to influence the administration’s policies towards the region. Unfortunately, good people like Ambassador Aponte sometimes lose out.

Monday, December 12, 2011

FMLN apologizes for the military's massacre

From this weekend in El Salvador
"I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate on behalf of the government of El Salvador our request for forgiveness to the thousands of innocent victims, but especially the victims of the massacre at El Mozote," Hugo Martinez, the country’s foreign minister, said.
Martinez noted that Mauricio Funes, the country's first democratically-elected president since the civil war, had already apologised for other violent incidents attributed to the army, state security forces and paramilitary groups.
"This event seeks to honour the memory of hundreds of innocent people who were murdered 30 years ago here in El Mozote and in other nearby hamlets," he said.
It's important that the Salvadoran state ask for forgiveness and take responsibility for the acts carried out in its name during the country's civil war. However, just like the earlier apologies from President Funes and those from Alvaro Colom in Guatemala, it'll really be something when those who ordered the killings or covered-up them up ask for forgiveness. Funes and the FMLN were not responsible for the massacre.

In Guatemala, it doesn't look like President-elect Otto Perez Molina is going to continue President Colom's unearthing of the past. From Perez Molina's perspective, there's nothing for which to apologize.

In El Salvador, President Funes has another two and one-half years in office. As of today, it doesn't look like ARENA is poised to follow in Funes' footsteps should they win the 2014 presidential election. And from ARENA's perspective, I can just hear them argue that the massacre at El Mozote, even if there was one, was not their responsibility. The massacre occurred under the civil-military junta "led" bJosé Napoleón Duarte of the Christian Democratic Party. The reason ARENA formed was because they disagreed with how the government was prosecuting the war. 

Hugo Martinez also Human rights ombudsman Oscar Luna said another thing that provides some hope that the Funes administration will work harder to revisit human rights violations from the civil war era. Tim reports that Luna Martinez "called for a repeal of the Amnesty Law, a judicial investigation of those responsible for the command and control of the massacre, and concrete reparations including financial, medical, psycho-social and legal assistance to the families of the victims." Unfortunately, Luna does not hold formal powers and his words are inconsistent with the Funes' administration so far. 

Now the people of El Salvador will have to hold Martinez and the government to their promise.

***Sorry about having to make the changes. Tim pointed out that it was Luna who called on the government to make things rights rather than Martinez.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Noriega returns home to Panama

On Sunday, Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega returned to his native country following twenty-plus years in US and French jails. He returns home to serve his remaining days in a Panamanian prison as long as he is not released to house arrest because of old age.

The AP has a story on his return and how Panama is a much different country from which he left over twenty years ago. I am sure that it is. On the other hand, I imagine that Noriega is looking around the region and feeling right at home.

Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas are in power in Nicaragua. Honduras recently suffered a military coup. The generals are back in charge in Guatemala. Costa Rica is still the region's strongest democracy. The Castro brothers remain in control of Cuba. The FARC are still operating in their southern neighbor. The FMLN is in power in El Salvador.

Okay, maybe that last one is a little different. One would probably have to throw the PRI in Mexico in there as well.

I guess the other thing that he is asking himself is "Why me?" Of all the dictators and guerrillas in Central America to have committed human rights violations, why was I the only one to get put away for twenty years?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

El Mozote - Thirty Years Later

December 11 marks the thirtieth anniversary of the massacre at El Mozote, El Salvador. In December 1981, the Atlacatl Batallion massacred over 800 men, women, and children in the single worst massacre in recent Central American history. 

For the last few days, Tim's El Salvador Blog has been running a series of posts surrounding the massacre including the victims, the survivor, the media, the responsibility of the United States, and efforts to find justice.
The El Mozote Massacre -- 30 years later
Rufina Amaya the survivor
the reporters
the US role
Seeking Justice in Spite of the Amnesty Law
Funes meets with victims' families
the rebirth of hope
Thanks Tim for bringing this all together.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Corruption back on the rise in Guatemala

I have another post up at Al Jazeera today. This time it's on corruption in Guatemala.

Basically, I'm not entirely convinced that Guatemala is anymore corrupt than it was a few years ago even though its score on the Corruption Perception Index of Transparency International showed a sharp decline from 2010 to 2011 meaning its much more corrupt.

I think a lot of the increase has to do with the uncovering of corruption by Paz y Paz and CICIG which I mention at the end of the piece. What I didn't mention is the role of the media. It sure seems as though Guatemala's media is much more focused on uncovering corruption in politics today than they were a few years ago. Perhaps it's because there is more corruption with Colom than other presidents.

It's also possible, however, that the media is more committed to uncovering corrupt acts today and will continue to be so going forward (which is a good thing). It's also possible that they never liked Colom and have been harder on him than they were on Portillo and Berger. I guess we'll have to wait to see whether their committing to uncovering corruption is just related to Colom or will continue into the next Perez administration.

Where's the homicide rate going in Guatemala?

Yesterday, Siglo XXI highlighted an article on the front of its webpage Mafia Violence Prevails in Election Year. In it, they refer to official sources that claim over 5,500 murders had been committed in Guatemala so far this year, making it one of the most violent years in its history. I had yet to come across November murder statistics, so I held back and hoped that November just wasn't as violent as the article made it out to appear.

And I had the same concerns about the murder statistics as Carlos Mendoza. According to the National Civilian Police, 4,733 murders were committed during the first ten months of the year. That meant, if the article was being accurate, over 767 murders would have had to have been carried out in November! Fortunately, no such thing happened as 459 murders were reported in November.

Guatemala now counts 5,192 murders heading into the last month of the year. If 472 murders occur in December (that's the monthly average murder count so far this year), Guatemala will finish the year having suffered through approximately 5,664 murders.

Obviously, we all want the number of murders to get as close to zero as possible. However, one also has to recognize how much progress has made in reducing murders in Guatemala in 2010 and 2011.

I did see an article from InSight earlier in the week that actually reported murders were in decline even as Guatemalans still feel the security situation has deteriorated. That's good and better than most of the other articles we read about murders spiraling out of control in Guatemala. So thank you.

On the other hand, it's up to Siglo XXI and other media organization not to post articles with incorrect murder statistics. While Guatemala is by no means entirely safe, their incorrect reporting helps to feed the growing sense of insecurity in the country.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Guatemala's Crime-Fighting Prosecutor's Job is Safe, For Now

Hannah Stone at InSight Crime has a really good article on Guatemala's Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz entitled Guatemala's Crime-Fighting Prosecutor's Job is Safe, For Now. In recent weeks, a smear campaign against Paz y Paz has been orchestrated in the major means of communications.

There have also been concerns that President-elect Otto Perez Molina would remove her so as to put an end to prosecutions against former military officials. Fortunately, Perez met with Paz y Paz on Tuesday to assure her that she would remain in her post when he takes office in January. That's great news because, as I mentioned last month, Paz y Paz is someone that will help the incoming administration to continue to right the ship in Guatemala.

In Plaza Publica's defense of Paz y Paz the other day, they highlighted her role going after Gloria Torres and her daughters.
This case can be interpreted for those who have not noticed, as a sign of Paz y Paz's independence from the governing UNE, a party that would have preferred another lawyer instead of her at the front of the MP.
On the other hand, I read several comments on El Periodico's website the other day explaining Paz y Paz's decision to go after Gloria Torres as having been driven by a desire to deflect attention away from President Alvaro Colom and former first lady Sandra Torres. One more thing. Paz y Paz, in the same article I think, was faulted for helping to cover up Rosenberg's murder.

Obviously, I don't subscribe to this explanation, but it's still important to know what some other people are saying in Guatemala. There are usually more than two sides to every story.

Guatemalan Foreign Minister criticizes US

On Wednesday, Foreign Minister Haroldo Rodas criticized President Barack Obama's efforts, or lack thereof, at extending Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Guatemalan nationals residing in the United States and moving forward on comprehensive immigration reform.

Rodas is probably right but coming out like this is not going to help his replacement, Harold Caballeros. However, it's more fair to blame Obama for not moving forward on TPS which his administration could extend without congressional input. There wouldn't even be any political "fallout" from TPS. Even though most Americans tend to lean towards supporting some version of comprehensive immigration reform, it would be a much tougher battle to get through congress.

And while I am in favor of comprehensive immigration reform, I have a feeling that by the time it ever moves through the House and the Senate and then is signed into law by the president, no one is going to like what it looks like.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Colom should respond to 28,000 murdered

According to Sergio Morales, Guatemala's human rights ombudsmen, President Alvaro Colom should respond to the 28,000 murders committed during his four year in office. However, I'm not entirely sure as to what numbers he is referring to.

As you can see in the table above, the total number of murders in Guatemala increased sharply from 2000 to 2009. President Colom took office in January 2008. Murders then decreased in 2010 and, while this year isn't over yet, it looks like 2011 will again have fewer murders.

According to the National Civilian Police's reporting, 18,750 Guatemalans were killed during Colom's first three years in office. For Morales' numbers to be accurate, Guatemala would have to have suffered another 10,000 murders in 2011!!! "Fortunately," Guatemala is is only on pace for between 5,600-5,700 murders.

The total number of murders and the murder rates were terrible each year of Colom's term. However, they improved in 2010 and 2011. And 2011's total look to be the lowest that the country has recorded since 2005.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Spain asks for extradition in UCA Jesuits killings

On Friday, the Spanish government accepted judge Eloy Velasco's request that it formally request the extradition of fifteen former Salvadoran military officials, two of whom currently reside in the US. (APContrapunto). 
The men are wanted in connection with the massacre of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter at the University of Central American in November 1989. The Spanish judge wants them extradited so that they can stand trial on charges of murder, terrorism and crimes against humanity.
I still can't see the men actually being extradited to Spain. In the past, legal processes begun in Spain do seem to have had an effect on helping to start or give extra support to proceedings in Chile and Guatemala. I am hopeful that Spain's actions will have the same effect in El Salvador. However, for the most part, the Salvadoran courts and President Funes have shown little indication that they are overly interested in reopening  the case in El Salvador. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

31st Anniversary of U.S. Churchwomen Murders

On December 2, 1980, four U.S. churchwomen were raped and murdered by allies of the U.S. government in El Salvador. From Scott McCabe of the Washington Examiner

The night before flying into El Salvador, Ford read a passage from a homily by Archbishop Oscar Romero, who had been assassinated nine months earlier, "[O]ne who is committed to the poor must run the same fate as the poor, and in El Salvador we know what the fate of the poor signifies: to disappear, be tortured, to be held captive -- and to be found dead."
The next day, members of the El Salvadoran national guard stopped their vehicle. The women were tortured, raped and murdered.
Then December 6th is the anniversary of the 1982 massacre of Dos Erres by the Guatemalan military in the Peten. And the 11th is the anniversary of the 1981 massacre at El Mozote by the Salvadoran military in Morazan.

Click here for what I wrote last year on the Churchwomen murders.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Rubio and Menendez condemn Ortega

From the Nicaragua Dispatch

U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ) today introduced a bipartisan resolution “In support of the democratic aspirations of the Nicaraguan people and calling attention to the continuing deterioration of constitutional order in Nicaragua,” according to a press release from the office of Sen. Rubio.
Wow, it would have been nice had they issued the same condemnations following the 2009 coup in Honduras. See also Has Ortega fatigue reached tipping point?